So let’s get right to it.
When the Rangers open camp on Monday, Tony DeAngelo will switch from his natural right side to the left and be paired with Jacob Trouba on what would become the team’s top defensive pair.
And Alexis Lafreniere will start his pro career at his natural left wing, skating with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier on what would be considered the third line while the top two lines would remain essentially intact from last season’s end, with the exception of Kaapo Kakko replacing the departed Jesper Fast on the second unit.
That would mean Mika Zibanejad between Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich — except for the fact that Brett Howden will fill Zibanejad’s spot on Monday while No. 93 is sidelined for an undisclosed reason — and Ryan Strome skating between Artemi Panarin and Kakko.
Continuity up front could be a blessing in light of this lightning-round camp through which the Blueshirts will be on the ice seven days, but David Quinn and the staff also thought continuity would be a blessing entering the summer’s qualifying round against Carolina. That proved a false narrative.
The formation up front may very well change as camp evolves, but there is little question that the Blueshirts’ preferred plan for the season would include a DeAngelo-Trouba top pair followed by the redoubtable Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox tandem. That would present a legit top-four, each pair featuring a balance of skill and toughness, though the third pair would become problematic.
At least until — and if — righty Nils Lundkvist signs following the season in Sweden and joins the Blueshirts.
DeAngelo played a fair amount on the left side through his adolescence and has consistently said that he’s confident he could handle the switch. Quinn said that lefties Brendan Smith, Anthony Bitetto and K’Andre Miller could all handle moving to the right to fill DeAngelo’s vacated spot. Monday, Smith will play the right while paired with Jack Johnson. That is probably not a sustainable combination.
The coach cautioned not to place too much emphasis on opening combinations, referring to the constant juggling and experimentation that accompanied last year’s camp. Strome, for example, opened at right wing and didn’t move into the middle until a week before the season opened. Point taken, of course, but last year’s camp ran for nearly three weeks and included six exhibition contests.
“The condensed training camp and not having a lot of time is going to be a challenge for everybody,” Quinn said. “We feel fortunate that we do have some continuity with some of our lines and we have a lot of our defensemen back from last year.
“We just feel as a staff that there’s a little more stability now. There isn’t a big turnover and a lot of the question marks we had last year.”
Indeed, Fast and Greg McKegg are the lone varsity forwards who did not return. Marc Staal is the only defenseman missing from the group that competed under the bubble in Toronto.
Lafreniere, of course, is the newcomer who will take the ice surrounded by the greatest sense of anticipation. Last year, all eyes were on Kakko, the second-overall selection of 2019.
“I really haven’t seen him live much other than some of the skates here,” Quinn said of Lafreniere. “We did have lunch, so I can report that he has good table manners and he knows how to order food properly.
“But one of the things I love about him as an athlete is not only does he obviously have world-class skill, but the way he approaches the game. There are a lot of characteristics you need to be a great player, talent is one of them and he certainly has that, but the way he carries himself, his work ethic, his determination, I think gives him a chance to be a really special player.”
Of course, there was no development camp in June for Lafreniere to attend and no Prospect Tournament in Traverse City in September for No. 13 to begin to acclimate himself to life in the NHL. Still, essentially everyone in the league, other than the few prospects who competed/are competing in the World Juniors, are on the same footing.
“One of the things we focused on with our players is just to come here, work hard and be the best player you can possibly be,” said Quinn, who enters his third year with a 69-64-19 mark behind the bench. “Some people are able to adapt to this league quicker than others, and obviously it’s a difficult league for a -year-old, no matter where you’re picked, no matter where you’ve played and no matter how much talent he has.
“[Lafreniere] is certainly going to have opportunity to take advantage of the skills he has. Obviously he’s been an elite player for a long time. I expect him to come in here, work hard and earn everything he gets.”
It starts on Monday.
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